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Benchmarks: August 3, 1769: The La Brea Tar Pits are described

Long before Los Angeles’ infamous traffic packed the pavement of Wilshire Boulevard, the area teemed with hundreds of species of Ice Age animals that became trapped in an asphalt quagmire of a different sort: the La Brea tar pits.

03 Aug 2013

July 28, 1996: Kennewick man is discovered

On the evening of July 28, 1996, archaeologist James Chatters received an unexpected call at his home in Richland, Wash., from the local coroner. Two spectators at the local hydroplane races had found a skull in Columbia Park on the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. The coroner wanted Chatters, a paleontologist and forensic anthropologist affiliated with Central Washington University who often consulted for Benton County, to look at the skull and determine if it belonged to a recent murder victim. When the coroner arrived with the skull in a 5-gallon bucket, Chatters had scant notion that the discovery would end up challenging the reigning theory of the origins of the first Americans and would embroil scientists in a protracted, precedent-setting legal battle against the federal government.

27 Jul 2013

Down to Earth With: James White

]James White contends that he has one claim to fame: He grew up just 50 kilometers from Dolly Parton in eastern Tennessee. His father worked as a chemist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, an enclave of science west of Knoxville. Now a chemist himself, White actually has more claims to fame than he is willing to admit. He has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications; he is the director of the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR); and he has been named an Institute for Scientific Information highly cited scientist — an honor bestowed on less than 0.5 percent of all publishing researchers.

17 Jun 2013

Down to Earth With: James Balog

Photographer James Balog is known for his groundbreaking environmental photography that examines intersections of humans and nature. His work has appeared in publications ranging from National Geographic and Smithsonian to Audubon and The New Yorker. He has also authored eight books, including the recently released “Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers,” and he has been honored with dozens of awards, including the Heinz Award and PhotoMedia’s Person of the Year.

17 May 2013

Benchmarks: May 12, 2008: Earthquake devastates western China

Just before 2:30 p.m. local time on May 12, 2008, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Sichuan province in Western China. One eyewitness recalls seeing a mountain “blowing up” and boulders two-stories tall crashing into gorges. Another recalls thinking there had been a natural gas explosion, while a third described a hill split in half. It was the country’s largest earthquake in more than 50 years, and it left 18,000 people missing and presumed dead, nearly 375,000 injured and more than 69,000 confirmed fatalities. 
 
12 May 2013

Down to Earth With: The Lava Cap Winery

During a long career at the U.S. Geological Survey  (USGS) and the University of California at Berkeley, paleontologist David Jones, who died in 2007, made fundamental contributions to understanding the geologic history of western North America, particularly the evolution of California’s puzzling Coast Ranges.

14 Apr 2013

Benchmarks: March 1913: The first complete geologic timescale is published

Ask a geologist when the Paleogene period started and odds are very good the answer will be about 65.5 million years ago. Ask about the Carboniferous and you’ll likely hear 359 million years ago. Ask how old Earth is and the answer will almost invariably be 4.55 billion years, give or take a few tens of millions of years. Today, most geologic ages are well established and widely agreed upon. But the geologic timescale wasn’t always so settled.
 
08 Mar 2013

Down to Earth With: Terry Plank

“You’re a genius! Now here’s half a million dollars to use however you please.”

That, in essence, was what geochemist and volcanologist Terry Plank was told when she received a surprising phone call early last October. The voice on the other end of the line was that of Robert Gallucci, president of the MacArthur Foundation, who was calling to inform her that she’d been selected to receive one of the foundation’s 23 fellowships — the so-called “genius grants” — for 2012. The prestigious, “no strings attached” grants award $500,000 over five years to innovative individuals to allow them the flexibility to pursue creative, often otherwise out-of-reach interests.

18 Feb 2013

Benchmarks: February 3, 1953: Jacques Cousteau's "The Silent World" is published, opening a window on the underwater world for millions

Few names are as evocative as Jacques Cousteau. The sunlight-infused blue glow of the marine subsurface, the endless array of otherworldly creatures that populate the ocean, and masked divers stealthily easing through the sea — trailed, of course, by glittering streams of bubbles emanating from Cousteau’s famed contraption — are morsels of the vivid imagery that his name often brings to mind. And with good reason: After all, he’s the one who introduced us to the real world below the waves, long before Bob Ballard found the Titanic or the Discovery Channel showed us what it’s like to swim with the sharks.
 
03 Feb 2013

Benchmarks: January 1, 1960: The Discovery of "Extinct Radioactivity" The quest to date the elements that formed the solar system

On June 30, 1918, Leo Kern saw a fireball blaze across the sky above his farm near Richardton, N.D., lighting up the night sky as if it were daytime and then exploding with a deafening boom that shook houses and rattled windows. Kern ducked behind a telegraph pole as fragments that sounded like “whistling bullets” struck his barn, he later reported to geologist T.T. Quirke of the University of Minnesota. What Kern and other witnesses all over  the southwestern corner of the state had seen was a 90-kilogram meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere and breaking up 100 kilometers above the surface. Kern had no way of knowing it at the time, but he had also witnessed the arrival of a message from the dawn of the solar system — one that scientists wouldn’t decode for another 42 years. 
 
01 Jan 2013

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